Saturday, April 30, 2022

Single in Boston Before & After the War


International Quilt Museum Collection 1997.007.0859
Turkey red on white signature quilt dated 1850 & 1851, Boston, Massachusetts
37 signatures, most affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Looking at Boston-made quilts brings up a curious fact about the city's 19th-century female population.
See some discussion of Cambridge in Boston last week:

The 1850 Massachusetts census shows the state with nearly 20,000 more women than men. Twenty years later there were 50,000 more women than men and in 1880: 66,000 more. Boston seems to have been the place with the greatest gender imbalance.

The city's 1845 census showed that 30% of women over 60 had never married. What's more: 70% of that group were living without husbands.

Giving rise to the unfortunate cliché of the New England spinster.

Charlotte Cushman & Matilda Hayes
And explaining why a pair of female domestic
partners maintained what was called a
Boston Marriage.

Bostonians Alice James and Katharine Loring in their English home

Alice and Katharine were born at the end of the 1840s, coming of marriageable age right after the Civil War had killed 600,000 men North & South. They may have viewed the "surplus woman" problem as a blessing as they were quite happy relying upon each other for their emotional lives.

There was a shortage of men for young single women looking for the traditional life position and for all the widows who hoped to remarry.

The 1880 census tells us that the percent of post-War widows was greatest in the South
but New York City and the Boston area are also shaded here.

One other factor in Boston was the Western migration that began in the 1840s.

1856 Lawrence, Kansas Museum of History

There was no shortage of single Massachusetts men in my Kansas town in the late 1850s.

Historic New England Collection

Another red and white quilt, this one made by Boston's Howard Sunday School members. Ten blocks have names and it's dated 1853.

Pamela Week's caption from her book Portable Patchwork on potholder quilts, quilted before the blocks are joined.

Another cliché is that these friendship quilts were made to celebrate weddings.
Demographics should make one more cautious in considering the social context.

Home full of English spinsters by George Cruickshank

Block by Clara of Plymouth, Massachusetts in a top dated 1875

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Freedom's Friends #2: Lucretia Coffin Mott, Quaker Finery


Block #2 Quaker Finery

Quakers were not much for feathers, plumes and finery. Rather they dressed themselves in good works. No one personifies Quaker ethics better than Lucretia Coffin Mott.

Sarah Smith Collection, Smith College

Lucretia in the shawl and husband James Mott posed with fellow members
of the Executive Committee of the Pennsylvania Anti Slavery Society
in 1851.

These activists administered the well-run underground railroad system in Philadelphia, employing William Still first as a janitor and, soon realizing his skills, as their Secretary and chief clerk.

Lucretia's family moved to Philadelphia in 1809 where she became an important advocate of the antislavery cause (and indeed many reforms.) Frustrated by the anti-female prejudice of the state's first abolition society she and numerous other women founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833---open to all races and both sexes. They worked beyond the Civil War until 1870.

Becky Brown added a few dots to her Quaker Finery

Lucretia's prodigious energy allowed her a hand in several antislavery societies while she was raising six children born between 1812 and 1828, four girls and two boys both named Thomas. The first Thomas died at the age of two in 1817.

Nantucket Historical Society
Lucretia dated this silk and wool quilt 1833, the same year she
founded the P.F.A.S.S.

William Still recalled her knitting and sewing during Anti-slavery
meetings. She liked to keep busy.

The Mott's Arch Street neighborhood just before Urban Renewal
destroyed the buildings.

Ex-President John Quincy Adams visited the Motts on North Ninth Street in 1836 for a large tea.
"Lucretia Mott, the mistress of the house sensible and lively, and an abolitionist of the most intrepid school."
The Motts not only talked abolition they broke the law by hosting runaway slaves, most notably Henry Brown, who became quite famous for having been shipped in a crate to the Philadelphia Anti Slavery Society.

William Still and P.A.S.S. friends unboxing Henry "Box" Brown
 after 36 hours in a crate.
His worst side effect was a headache.

Quaker Finery by Georgann Eglinski

Lucretia described the rescue in an 1849 letter:
"I must tell you what an exciting fugitive case we had last week. A citizen of Richmond, Va., called at the office and told Miller McKim and Cyrus Burleigh, that a slave in that city was meditating his escape by being placed in a box, as goods, lo be sent by Adams Express. He was told of the great danger of suffocation, as well as the risk of detection, but was not deterred. After some delays, a telegraph at length apprised Miller of his approach. The box was received at the depot, more carefully handled than it had been before, and safely deposited at the A. S. office, when a trembling tap, and 'All right?' from Miller, was responded to by 'All right, sir!' from the pent-up man. The lid was removed as quickly as the hoops could be loosened, when he rose, with a 'Good morning, gentlemen!'
"Miller says we can hardly conceive the relief and excitement to find the man alive, and the poor fellow's happiness and gratitude; he sung a hymn of praise. He is a large man, weighing nearly two hundred pounds, and was incased in a box two feet long, twenty three inches wide, and three feet high, in a sitting posture. He was provided with a few crackers, and a bladder filled with water, which would make no noise in being turned over, nor yet be liable to be broken; he however ate none, as it would have made him thirsty, and he needed all the water to bathe his head, after the rough turns over, in which he sometimes rested for miles on his head and shoulders, when it would seem as if the veins would burst. He fanned himself almost constantly with his hat, and bored holes for fresh breathing air, with a gimlet or small auger furnished him. The cracks of the box had canvas over, to prevent any inspection, and to appear like goods. 
"Dr. Noble says, if he had been consulted, he should have said it would be impossible for the man to be shut up and live twenty-four hours...[Brown] was conducted here, where he gave us his history.... He had a wife and three children sold from him a year ago,...This almost broke his heart; and from that time he resolved on obtaining his own freedom; and having no family to provide for, he laid by enough to hire a white man to undertake his removal in the box....After resting...he was sent on east. "
Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880)

Library Company of Philadelphia

In 1857 the Motts moved out of Philadelphia to "Roadside" in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County. Lucretia is in the chair with a daughter or two and a grandchild.

Barbara Brackman's Quaker Finery

The Block
Quaker Finery

International Quilt Museum Collection

This block in a Turkey red print is from an 1855 album stitched in New Village, Long Island, New York. Lucretia, born on Nantucket, went to a Quaker boarding school in New York, met her husband there and taught school before moving to Philadelphia.
The pattern is simple, a feathery leaf repeated four times.

Print this out on an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper. Note
the square inch for scale.

From a repeat block quilt about 1850...

...sashed with a floral

New Jersey album
Four-way feathers were varied.

Denniele Bohannon's Quaker Finery
Dots seem irresistible.

Jeanne Arnieri is adding embroidery

See more about the indefatigable Lucretia Mott in this post:

And better photos of her quilt here:

Robyn Gragg modified Block #1 to frame the center
of her quilt with Block #2 plus a few dots in the featured spot.

And a small contemporary medallion by Wendy C. Reed

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Banks Brigade of Cambridge, Massachusetts


A few founding members of  the Banks Brigade of Cambridge, 
Massachusetts, 1863

In the fall of 1861, sixteen girls from elite families of Cambridge, home to Harvard University, met at the home of Jane Loring Gray, wife of  Botany Professor Asa Gray, to begin their work for Civil War soldiers.

Jane Loring Gray (1821-1909)

The Gray's home still stands
Jane Gray's niece Julia Bragg was a member.

Nathaniel Prentiss Banks (1816-1894)

This local soldiers' aid society adopted the name of Massachusetts General Nathaniel Banks. The Banks Brigade (B.B.) met until 1931.

When the war was over they shortened their name to The Bee
and continued meeting to sew for charity.

Susan Hunt Dixwell Miller (1845-1924)

Sixteen-year-old Susan Dixwell became the Colonel of the Banks Brigade, due to her sewing skills and  industrious nature.

In The Story of The Bee written in the 1920s Mary Towle Palmer dedicated the memoir to Colonel Sue Dixwell. The text above is from a memorial to Sue written by William O. Dapping in 1926. He tells us she was an "expert needlewoman" having attended Miss Bowen's Sewing School (could find no further information about Miss Bowen's.) Sue was known to walk through Cambridge's central square knitting as she went.

Florence Sparks Moore (1845-1915)

The Brigade met every Friday afternoon throughout the war to do the usual sewing of shirts, sleepwear and quilts and knitting of  "blue socks with red and white borders." 

Above is one of their few production accounts; the girls were not good at making lists. As the War went on they began shipping their handwork to the Western Sanitary Commission headquarters in St. Louis. No records of their quilts seems to exist.

Mary Towle Palmer (1846-? ) wrote The Story of the Bee with
help from friends like Grace Hopkinson Eliot, wife of Harvard's President.

The fifteen-year-old daughters of professors recalled they lacked
experience with plain sewing.

Elizabeth Ellery Dana (1846-1939) in the 1890s

After the war the Bee continued sewing for those in need. Lily Dana who kept a diary had been schooled at Miss Porter's in Farmington, Connecticut, an education that did not prepare her for the work of a seamstress. Grace Hopkinson criticized her awful work and Lily failed to confess.

Lily mentions carrying the Bee Basket to Mrs. Waterman's. Apparently a large basket containing work to be done was left at each house in turn and last week's hostess had to carry it to the next home (probably with manly help from a servant). There was complaining. Who filled the Bee Basket wasn't noted.

Anna Page refused to sew at all, crocheting instead.

The girls grew; many married; some moved away but The Bee continued meeting every other Friday for 58 years, disbanding in 1931. Socializing, good dinners and fun was a prime motivation to join the others although some significant sewing did get done.

A 1918 parade celebrated the Bee's sewing for four wars. 

Lilian Horsford Farlow (1848-1927)
Lilian rented a truck for the parade and furnished it with
 rocking chairs for ten Bee members who knitted and saluted soldiers. 

The original 16 invited others to join after the Civil War. In all, over 60 women belonged at some time or another, among them the two Alice Jameses of Cambridge.

Miss Alice James (1848-1892) joined when the family moved to
Cambridge in 1867. Her brothers were William, the
philosopher, and Henry, the novelist.

Mrs. Alice Howe Gibbens James (1849-1922) 
 married the Harvard philosophy professor.
Bee members found her sister-in-law entertaining 
& witty. Did Mrs. Alice?

Well, one could go on. The Banks Brigade and the later Bee are one of
the best documented of the local soldier's aid societies.

Do read Mary Towle Palmer's The Story of the Bee at Cambridge's history site:

And Cambridge has a Flickr page full of the members' photos, which is where many of the above portraits were obtained.

Litchfield Historical Society
Scrap of a dress Jane Loring Gray recalled wearing in 1847, stripes in Prussian blue.